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Scientists share their grief, anger, and hope over climate change

Posted on 30 March 2020 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

This month’s original YCC “This Is Not Cool” video shows how several experienced climate scientists are handling the emotional and personal feelings that many feel in grasping the potential adverse effects of runaway climate change. In the current global context posed by the coronavirus pandemic, there are striking similarities between the COVID-19 disease and risks posed by climate change.

“Knowing what I know about the science and the projections, that puts me into a state of grief,” says climate scientist Jeff Kiehl, a veteran of the National Center for Atmospheric Research now associated with the University of California, Santa Cruz. With a first grandchild now 10 months old, Kiehl points to what he sees as “lost opportunities” to get a jump on climate change and says he fears “loss of a world that we as a species have known since our beginning.”

“I’ve been there, I’ve been depressed about these results many times,” says University of Wisconsin scientist Andrea Dutton. She says that in her presentations to the public, she feels it is important to help audiences fully discuss personal feelings with friends, family, and acquaintances.

“We almost need a team of psychiatrists and therapists to go into a community dealing with climate change to allow people to process all these emotions,” Dutton says. She adds that “we must allow people to emotionally respond to scientists’ information” and “accept reality.” Her prescription: “For me, it’s engaging in solutions. … The future is going to be different” and the public should “not fight that feeling anymore” but rather accept and ask how that future should best be shaped.

Anger is OK and can lead to constructive engagement

Asked by videographer Peter Sinclair if scientists should feel a “sense of anger,” Kiehl says well-channeled anger over climate change risks can be “a good source of energy” and can lead to “some very constructive action” and engagement on climate change issues.

Despite their anxieties, Kiehl and Dutton share the perspectives of two other scientists in the video – Twila Moon of the National Snow and Ice Data Center and Ben Abbott of Brigham Young University that, as Dutton says, “we can make a choice and choose a different pathway” forward. “The future is not written yet,” Dutton says. “We get to choose that future.”

“We are nowhere near a point where we should put our heads in the sand or throw up our hands and feel that there is nothing we can do,” Moon says. “Indeed, what we do will be the primary determinant of what things look like in the future.”

Abbott is similarly hopeful. “I really do see a sea change. Lots of people are recognizing that we are part of the problem,” he says. “That’s not reason to despair. That’s reason to take hope, because that means we can be the solution. Since it’s us, it’s absolutely within our control to change how we live, to protect the climate system and to ensure a better future.”

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  1. In 1977 I wrote a book at the University of Pennsylvania on the topic of "regulation of environmental deterioration" as based on my two-year project based at the Stockholm School of Economics. The work was to evaluate approaches to regulation of human acts damaging the natural environment. It was a multi-million dollar project involving measurement of activities at facilities of twenty international companies, and then formalizing the manner of regulation carried out by six governments.

    The results were a surprise to all. They put numbers on the deficiencies in the legalism basic to societal regulation. It was shown to be overtly analytic, thus always missing the points of a systemic nature. Its resulting legal order mostly covered even worse deterioration over the longer term. Cause-effect thinking, formalized into two-dimensional laws and then set up in a regulatory process assured failure in protecting life on the planet. This artificial process only encouraged expannded deterioration from the sciences, as exhibited in industrialization of the artificial. This was projected to only worsen the enviornment out to be protected, and thus threaten life on the planet at an ever deeper level.

    A more appreciative method, called "negotiated order," as seen in the sense of Vickers "Appreciative Systems," and then Rapaport's "Prisoner's Delimma," was designed and posed. Results of first trials in factories were amazing.

    In September, 1977, a head scientist from Exxon, who was a part of the project, presented findings to Exxon's Board, and myself, on how human activities, as we knew them, would change the climate of the planet. He suggested we radically rethink science, economics, business, and human affairs. At the time the Board was very appreciative of his advise. Later, the legal system advised them to act otherwise, at least in the US.

    Sweden's Prime Minister presented the research findings to a meeting of OECD, advising them to avoid the US attitude and approch to legalization of environmental regulation.  

    In May, 2019 I was asked to post a comment on this history to a newly created AAAS Community Website. I did.  It attracted about 900 responses, resulting in about 2200 pages of printout. Review by others showed that eighty percent of the scientist were more pessmistic then my initial comment. 

    In November, 2019 much of the 1979 book was republished as "Too Early, Too Late, Now what."  It led to many questions. One raised questions about there being a relaion between the general idea of climate change from human activities and the concern with humans being human as outlined in the book.  I suggested a year ago that we may seen a continuation of natural responses to human incursions via more, and more deadly, diseases human science can't manage or eventually comprehend.  After a discussion on this with pre-book reviewers, and colleagues in China that study diseases, a new virus did emerge. It, and those following will better answer the concern raised a year ago. 

    One thesis from the book is that when its too late for humans to redesign what and who they are then its timely for nature to interviene. One method is of course via natural design of viruses that become more sophisticated and deadely, and further outside human capability to respond to, or control the effects. China's leading scientist in the area believes there are an array of such virses awaiting us. As such, they will deal with the problem of humans being human. This will be nature's means for resolving the seemingly intractable human problem of creating climate change. The book describes how and why such has become more serious during forty years since the Exxon model. 

    By the way how do you define ad hominem comments?  I asked this via memories of the qualifier from 1991. There was a $2 million project I was going to transfer to New Jersey Institute of Technology. It was on the role of infrastructures in climate change. The proposed project was rejected by the then provost, Gary Thomas, as simply being "ad hominem." I transferred the funding elsewhere to a company that since grew from $30 billion/year to $200 billion/year of work. 

    Does "ad hominem" mean an idea is a precursor for humans reaching "it's too late?"   I hope not, but am interested in what you think?

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  2. Excellent point.  Since we are the cause, we could also be the solution.  The first step is to stop vested interests and especially the fossil fuel industry, financing our politicians.  Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune and there is no field where this is more true than in politics.  If this was stopped, there is just a chance that the politicians would start to act in our interests rather than in the interests of their finciers. 

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  3. This is a helpful sharing of knowledge and experience.

    As an engineer I learned that it was essential to have a good understanding of a problem before coming up with potential solutions. When unacceptable results occurred, solutions that were developed without identifying the real cause of the problem were unlikely to be sustainable solutions.

    And my MBA education in the 1980s, and observations since then, helped me understand that many people with Business Interests will limit their concerns and considerations to short-term Profit and Popularity (something that responsible engineers had to protect the Public from). Popularity derived from misleading marketing, especially from appeals designed to trigger desires or anxiety, could be effective ways to achieve Profit in the Short-Term.

    And the ability to abuse misleading marketing in Politics, william's point about money in politics, is clearly abused by people who are inclined to try to personally benefit from their ability to influence leadership actions. An important part of politics is being able to influence the public in the very short-term of the critical few days when votes are cast in an election (and undeserving powerful people have even learned to abuse their power to keep some people from voting).

    And the way laws and regulations get written and enforced can undeniably be influenced (compromised) to produce unreasonable and undeniably harmfully results that favour people who are focused on personally benefiting to the detriment of Others (any way they can get away with).

    The establishment of the UN after WW2 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, were the results of expanded awareness and understanding that the developed socioeconomic-political systems were producing many unsustainable harmful results that powerfully resisted being corrected. However, the UN structure itself was compromised by the powerful people at the time of its formation.

    In spite of the flaws built into the UN by the powerful, the UN has been a mechanism for many global collaborative efforts to expand awareness and improve understanding and apply what is learned to help develop a better future for everyone. The 1972 Stockholm Conference was one of those helpful results. And the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the latest helpful compilation of understanding regarding what is required for the Future of Humanity to be Better.

    What can be understood is that there are many people among the currently wealthy and powerful who are anxious about the changes required to achieve the SDGs. Minimizing climate change impacts has been understood to be an important action for the benefit of the future of humanity for a very long time. However, minimizing the harm of climate change impacts will reduce the perceptions of wealth and superiority that many wealthy people developed.

    Many people will lose developed perceptions of wealth and opportunity if the global Leadership actually acts to responsibly curtail the use of fossil fuels. And those undeserving wealthy people have been fighting against that awareness and understanding becoming more popular. And as result, the ones who are wealthier today because of the delay of responsible Global Leadership action on climate change impacts undeniably deserve No Consideration, and in addition to their loss of wealth due to their Bad Investment Choices they may deserve penalties for knowingly trying to benefit more from being harmful.

    Which brings the discussion back to the similarity between the Governing Objectives that everyone needs to be governed by in order to most responsibly deal with COVID-19, Climate Change, and so many other challenges to global Humanity. Everybody needs to ensure their actions "Do No Harm to Any Others". And everybody needs to try to "Help Others".

    Many of the Richest will lose developed perceptions of superiority relative to Others, especially if those perceptions were from unsustainable and harmful activity that was deemed to be "Legal", or not monitored for and penalized for its potential to be understood to be illegal (Illegal should mean Harmful to Others). The required changes would include "Legal Corrections". And the correct legal and regulatory requirements can only be developed by excluding People who have interests that are contrary to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which would require that the rule-making or its enforcement must not be compromised by Consideration of Popularity or Profitability.

    Beliefs that Popularity or Profitability legitimize or justify something need to be curtailed, the sooner the better. That means ending the Libertarian Free-Market beliefs that Good Results will be developed if everyone is freer to believe whatever they want and do as they please. The expanded awareness and improved understanding of the SDGs makes that required correction undeniably obvious.

    Everyone's actions add up to produce the future. Everyone needs to be Governed by "Do No Harm, Try to Help". Everyone Self-governing that way would be the only way for the Libertarian and Free-Market dreams to be realized. That will never be the reality. Responsible Leadership helpfully governing and limiting what is done and expanding awareness and understanding will always be required. The challenge today is figuring out how to undo the harmful developed compromising Global Leadership that abuses harmful and ultimately unsustainable popularity and profitability as excuses to Resist Helpful Correction.

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